Thursday, April 18, 2024

EDITORIAL: Education, health shaped estimates

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NOW THAT the Estimates debate has taken place, the public may have a more sharply defined view of the nature of our national economy and the problems we are facing.

There can be little doubt that the economy is still not yet out of the woods. That much is clear, and the national effort to bring equilibrium to the national finances is still a necessary exercise.

We may be on the right track now, but the journey home is still a long trek along potentially dangerous terrain, and the Government must still keep a very steady hand on the tiller in order to avoid the financial icebergs which may be concealed in the waters which lie ahead.

Not surprisingly, education and health generated a great deal of debate and it is obvious that apart from the technical aspects of policy related to these two areas, the politics of these issues occupied much of the attention of honourable members on both sides.

Now the estimates debate may be the meat and potatoes of those who are political scientists and students and teachers of economics, but as moderators of the public issues we are always mindful that the management of the national economy and the shape and pattern of the Estimates are matters which have a direct influence on the lives and welfare of ordinary people living in this society.

And along with the cost of living, these two issues are of such direct concern to our people, that no effort should be spared in ensuring that the greatest efficiency attend all the agencies involved in the delivery of health and education services.

If waste and inefficiency are present then they must be eliminated so that maximum value can be extracted from the large sums necessarily allocated for these heads of the Estimates.

At the same time, all Barbadians must recognise that the cost of providing these services “free” at the point of delivery eats up a large part of the national budget, and that even if skilful handling of the national economy would have postponed the day of reckoning, the moment may have come when we have to rationally revisit the basis of “free” health care and tertiary level education.

There may be disagreement on the arrival of the moment, but large swathes of our people may have been lifted out of dire poverty by the free provision of these services to the point where they may have to carry a part of these costs for their offspring.

And yet there are also vulnerable groups among us who will have to continue to rely on the State to benefit from these vital services. Such are the vagaries of nationhood.

Small open economies demand keen and skilled management, since the very daily existence of some people depend on decisions made at the national level.

We hope the upcoming Budget will reflect some aspects of a people-centred approach among the strategies adopted for solving our economic problems.

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